“It Is Better for You” (Sermon on Mark 9:38-50, by Pr. Charles Henrickson)

“It Is Better for You” (Mark 9:38-50)

You don’t hear a lot of people talking about hell. It’s not a very popular topic. Modern ears are too sensitive to hear any talk of God actually judging people and sending them to hell. How dare he! Who does he think he is, God? Well, yeah. He can make that call. He is the almighty Judge, who is always righteous in his judgments.

But the Bible does speak of God’s judgment and eternal damnation. Even so, you don’t hear a lot of sermons that even mention hell. Well, today you will. Because Jesus himself talks about hell. A lot, actually. Listen again to what he says, in the reading from Mark 9: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’”

“It Is Better for You.” Notice that refrain running through this text. Over and over again, Jesus emphasizes that it is better for you to enter life maimed than to go into hell with all of your members intact. So now let’s explore why and hear how to avoid such a horrible fate. You see, there is a better outcome in store for you than to end up in hell.

First of all, what do we mean by the word “hell”? In brief, it is the term used in the Bible for the place of eternal punishment for the ungodly in the age to come. That’s hell. The word that’s used in our text for “hell” is the Greek word “Gehenna.” And “Gehenna,” in turn, comes from the Hebrew to refer to the Valley of Hinnom. What’s the connection, you ask, between the Valley of Hinnom and Gehenna and hell? Well, the Valley of Hinnom is a ravine right next to the city of Jerusalem. And in the Old Testament, we read about some of the Israelites practicing the false religion of offering up sacrifices to a pagan god–even child sacrifices, in the fire, in the Valley of Hinnom. So a curse was pronounced upon that place. Thus the Valley of Hinnom, Gehenna, came to be associated with the judgment that God places upon false worship and unbelief. And that is the connection of Gehenna and hell.

Hell is a reality. All the wishful thinking in the world cannot whisk it away. The Bible speaks of and teaches God’s judgment and curse and wrath upon those who reject him and rebel against him–the Bible teaches this consistently from cover to cover. There’s no getting around it: Hell is for real.

And Jesus speaks about the reality of hell, not only in our text today, but also in other places in the gospels. For instance, in the judgment of the sheep and the goats, Jesus will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” And then it says: “And these will go away into eternal punishment.” Likewise, Jesus will talk about those who are cast out into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. And in our text for today, he speaks of those who go to hell as going to “the unquenchable fire,” “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”

The point? Hell is for real, and it’s a place you definitely do not want to go. And Jesus reinforces that point by making several comparisons. He says, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell. . . . If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell.” Now imagine that. Imagine cutting off your hand. As bad as that would be, it would be better than going to hell. Imagine cutting off your foot. That would be better than being thrown into hell. And imagine tearing out your eye. That also would be better than being thrown into hell. It is better for you to enter life, to enter the kingdom of God, with one hand, one foot, and one eye, than to go to hell with both hands, both feet, and both eyes. Yeah, even that way, you’d be better off.

Hell is for real, and you don’t want to go there. Or do you? There are people in this world who don’t want anything to do with God or with Jesus in this life. In the age to come, they will get their wish. They will be cut off from God forever. They will have no part in the life that is found only in Christ. The unbelievers, the mockers, the rejecters–that is where they are headed. Straight to hell. Why? Because they are rejecting the only way of salvation there is, namely, through Christ. And so their sins remain on them. Christ died for all the sins and all the sinners of the world, but if one rejects the one remedy that God provides, then what remains but fearful judgment?

Now God does not want people to go to hell. That’s why Jesus came. But when people refuse the gift, their sins remain upon them, as does God’s judgment. The Bible says, in John 3: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. . . . Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

Do you see? God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” And that truth is Jesus, who declares, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Yes, the Lord is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” And this is why Jesus warns us today about the danger of going to hell. So that we would repent and turn to him for forgiveness and salvation and eternal life. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Yes, there is something better in store for you today than going to hell. Something much netter by far. This is a treasure more precious than all the gold in the world. This is a pearl of great price, worth more than anything you could imagine or desire. It is the free gift of everlasting life in Christ. Nothing else can compare. It is better for you, so much better, that you would gladly suffer any loss, so as not to lose this one thing needful.

What is in store for you, this gift that is so much better? It is the forgiveness of all your sins. Everything that would weigh you down and cut you off from God–all that burden is lifted from you and you are brought near to God as his dear children. What is this thing that is better? It is the sure hope of the life to come, life everlasting, life that overcomes the grave. This is yours in Christ. Hold on to this hope, and it will carry you through all the hardships and grief and loss of this life. What is this gift? It is the resurrection of the body on the last day, the day when Christ returns and restores all things. Glorified bodies in a renewed creation, life everlasting with our Lord and all his saints. Yes, this is our hope, in Christ.

How? How is this so? I know I do not deserve this. I have done nothing to earn it. My sins afflict my conscience. How can I be sure I qualify? How can I know I get in? Answer: Not because of anything you do. Not by your performance or your goodness or your measuring up. No. It’s because of what Jesus does for you. He died for you on the cross to take away your sins. Your sin and your guilt are covered by the holy blood of Christ, God’s own Son. He, the innocent one, suffered the agony of separation from God, abandonment by God, the wrath of God, there on that cross. He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That was Jesus experiencing what hell is like, that Gehenna, to be cut off from God. He took that forsakenness in your place, so that now you will not suffer it. “It is finished!” he cried, declaring his saving mission completed. Then Jesus descended into hell, into Hades, the domain of Satan, to declare his victory even there. And on the third day he rose from the dead, bodily, to show forth that the victory remained with life, and that this resurrection life is what is in store for you who trust in him. This bestowal of life was sealed in your baptism, and you taste of it here in the Supper, a foretaste of the feast to come.

It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than to have all your members whole and be thrown into hell. The past two days I received news of the deaths of two persons I have known for quite some time. One is the father of my best friend going back to kindergarten in Chicago. He was an immigrant from Greece, by the name of Themis Tsaoussis, and he was my buddy’s dad. Mr. Tsaoussis was a man I knew and respected for almost my whole life. He lived to a ripe old age, but still he died, and one feels the loss. Death isn’t supposed to happen, you know, at no matter what age. Death is the enemy of life, the last enemy to be destroyed, and it will be destroyed, once and for all, when Christ returns and raises the dead.

The other person I knew who just died is someone you may have heard of, Maggie Karner. Maggie was the director of Life and Health Ministries for the LCMS. She was a real leader in the pro-life movement. Ironically, though, this woman in charge of life and health came down with a terminal illness about a year or so ago. And Maggie was not old. She was only in her middle years, with a husband and several young adult daughters. But she was diagnosed with brain cancer, and she knew she had only months to live. But this only gave her a greater opportunity to speak out in favor of life and of the hope she had in Christ. Maggie knew there was something better in store for her. The Lord was saying to her, “It is better for you, Maggie, to enter life with brain cancer than to live a long life with perfect health but to miss out on the kingdom. Yes, it is better for you, my child, so much better. Welcome home.”

Jesus gives this better gift to you today. He says: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” And we answer with a hearty “Amen!” “Yes, yes, it shall be so!”



“It Is Better for You” (Sermon on Mark 9:38-50, by Pr. Charles Henrickson) — 11 Comments

  1. There are two items in this sermon that, I think, require some serious thought. One is the question of repentance, the other is penal substitution. In order not to confuse any argument that may ensue, I will make separate postings on these.
    ”And this is why Jesus warns us today about the danger of going to hell. So that we would repent and turn to him for forgiveness and salvation and eternal life.” If indeed these “us” and “we” are members of the Body of Christ, Walther, in Thesis XV of Law and Gospel warns, “It is not only extremely dangerous, but actually harmful to the souls of men for a minister to preach in such a manner as to lead men to believe that he regards the Gospel in its narrow and proper sense as a preaching of the Law and of the anger of God against sinners, calling them to repentance.” Further in the same Thesis he cites Epitome, Art. V, §§ 6. 7. :
    “Accordingly we reject and regard as incorrect and injurious the dogma that the Gospel is properly a preaching of repentance, or reproof, and not alone a preaching of grace; for thereby the Gospel is again converted into a doctrine of the Law, the merit of Christ and Holy Scripture are obscured, Christians robbed of true consolation, and the door is opened again to the errors and superstitions of the Papacy.”
    Also, Law and Gospel
    From Thesis XII.
    “One of the principal reasons why many at this point mingle Law and Gospel is that they fall to distinguish the daily repentance of Christians from the repentance which precedes faith.”
    When a Christian is baptized, God comes to that person and lives in him. He makes that person a member of His Kingdom. Although all Christians sin, we do not need to “turn to Him for salvation and eternal live;” we did that when we became members of the Kingdom of God, and as long as we are members of that Kingdom, we need not do it again. That is what He has promised us, and anyone who tries to shake my belief in that is, as Luther said it, making God a liar.
    I assume they do not teach in the seminary that there is a difference between the repentance that comes at conversion and the repentance or contrition that is part of the daily life of the Christian. If we were really concerned about not confusing Law and Gospel, we would pay greater attention to this matter.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  2. About penal subsitution:
    “He, the innocent one, suffered the agony of separation from God, abandonment by God, the wrath of God, there on that cross. He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That was Jesus experiencing what hell is like, that Gehenna, to be cut off from God.”
    I object to this doctrine because:
    The punishment for our sins is eternal separation from God. Nobody has been able to explain to me how the suffering of our Lord was equal to that. No amount of other explanations is of any value until this objection is overcome. People wax metaphoric about our Lord experiencing “real hell” and being “separated from the Father” while He was on the cross. But none of that even comes close to what Scripture tells us is the punishment for sin.
    It raises the specter of a conflict within the Trinity. Since Jesus is God, we have sinned not only against God the Father, but against Jesus as well. What about His wrath caused by our sin? Was the Father the only one who needed to vent His anger? Is it at all possible for the Son to be separated from the Father? John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.”
    The idea that God, the Father, poured out His wrath on His Son is abominable. Both at our Lord’s Baptism and the Transfiguration, the latter occurring just prior to His suffering, the Voice from Heaven spoke of the beloved Son – and God does not change. The fact is that, 1 Peter 1:20, “He was destined before the foundation of the world …” So from eternity, the Father and the Son loved each other, but for one day, the Father, in a fit of rage poured out His wrath on His Son, and then became loving again? This is the fabrication of people who view God as a super human being, not a God Who is infinitely greater and different than we are. Can we trust a god who vents his anger on his own son to keep his promise of eternal salvation to us, who are so much more insignificant than his son?
    It is a trivialization of sin to think that one day’s extreme suffering can pay for all the sins of the world for all time. Many people have suffered much more, and not a single one of their sins was forgiven because of it.
    If our Lord bore the punishment for our sins, then why do we still pray for forgiveness and receive absolution. If God is just and righteous, he would not require anything more once our sins had been paid for. In fact, in Jeremiah 31, where God says through the Prophet, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sins no more”, and when our Lord, when He instituted the Eucharist, said, “this is the blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”, it is clear that punishment and forgiveness are incompatible. To have both is unjust, and God certainly is just.
    The Book of Hebrews explains the redemptive process in terms of the Laws of Sacrifice which were an intrinsic part of what God revealed to His people. There was never any thought of punishment of the animals that were sacrificed. We know of the history of sacrifice in the Old Testament, and when we come to the greatest sacrifice ever made, we suddenly say, “punishment.”
    The matter of the alleged “Cry of Dereliction” is too big to discuss here. Suffice it to say that there are enough Lutheran theologians who do not believe it was a Cry of Dereliction at all. Here is a great paper, http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/17/17-4/17-4-pp235-238_JETS.pdf, and here is one by a Lutheran: http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/HolstThe'CryOfDereliction‘.pdf
    There are many things about God that are not revealed in Scripture. We don’t know why it is that sacrifice became a means of atonement – we only know that God commanded it, and that God accepted it.
    There are more arguments, but I think these are enough to demonstrate that “penal substitution” is a perversion of the Gospel.
    Whoever will object to me about this matter, please do not quote Isaiah 53:5 until you have done a careful exegesis of this verse.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  3. “Nobody has been able to explain to me how the suffering of our Lord was equal to that.”

    Does it have to make sense to our limited reason before it can be believed? I wouldn’t expect that explanation anytime soon though. It’d be like trying to explain how Christ is fully God and fully man or the inner workings of the Trinity.

    Trust the simplicity of the Gospel: Christ paid for your sins with His precious blood and innocent suffering and death that you may be His own and live with Him in His kingdom.

    I won’t quote Isaiah 53:5 as you requested. I will drop down 5 verses.

    “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.”
    ‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭53:10‬

  4. @T-rav #3

    Thank you for your response. No, it does not have to make sense before it can be believed. In fact, whatever we know about God intuitively or by deduction is of no help to us when it comes to the matter of salvation. God has chosen to reveal Himself to us through His Son, the Living Word, and through His own Word, which has been handed down to us in the form of the Sacred Scriptures. Whatever He reveals usually does not make sense from a human point of view, but it is nevertheless the will of God. So it is when Scripture tells us that the punishment for sin is eternal separation from God in a place called “Hell.” Scripture is clear and unambiguous about that. Therefore, if our atonement were through substitutionary punishment, someone would have to be condemned to hell for eternity in our place.
    It is also unambiguous about the nature of sacrifice, how God commanded it to be done, and about the ultimate sacrifice, when God sacrificed Himself, in the Person of our Lord, the Christ, 2 Cor. 5:19, “that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
    Fundamentally, the Gospel is indeed simple. But from the times of the early Church people have proclaimed various rationalizations as truth, to the detriment of the simple Gospel. When this happens, people of faith should make themselves heard.
    And thank you for Isaiah 53:10. It makes my point.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  5. @George A. Marquart #4

    Unfortunately, I don’t have time to discuss this further, but I am confused. In your post, you said this:

    “The idea that God, the Father, poured out His wrath on His Son is abominable.”

    Isaiah 53:10 says this:

    “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him.”

    If crushing does not mean the Father pouring out His wrath on the Son I don’t know what it means.

  6. @T-rav #5

    Sorry, I don’t mean to take up your time needlessly with this.
    Your question illustrates precisely the difference between human reasoning and the will of God. It was indeed the will of God to crush Him. People cannot imagine how anyone would want to crush anyone without wrath. But not so our loving Father. The words that follow explain it, “and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin,
    he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
    and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
    11 After he has suffered,
    he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
    by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
    and he will bear their iniquities.
    12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
    and he will divide the spoils with the strong,[h]
    because he poured out his life unto death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors.
    For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.”
    Out of love, not out of wrath, He allowed His Son to be crushed. Don’t you remember, “For God so loved the world ….” That was not just a cute baby in a manger; it was also God on the cross.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  7. @T-rav #5

    No worries. You’re not taking up my time at all. I wish I had more time to talk more about this.

    This will be my last comment on it.

    I understand Isaiah 53 to be prophesying both the death and resurrection of Christ. I see 10b-12 to be especially speaking of the resurrection. I don’t understand it to be explaining how God crushed Him without wrath.

    I think there are far too many Scriptures that have to be explained away or ignored in order to deny penal substitutionary atonement.

    Christ became a curse for us. “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” -Galatians “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”- 2 Corinthians. There are so many, many more.

  8. @T-rav #7

    But in the meantime you have ignored every argument against it as if they have no weight at all. Eternal punishment was just one. God cannot be mad at Himself if “the Father and I are one.” None of the passages from Scripture you mention require penal substitution. I just want to make sure that you don’t think that I deny substitutionary atonement. By no means. But that does not require punishment.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A Marquart

  9. @George A. Marquart #8

    I know I said the other was my last post on this, but I better respond since I misunderstood you.

    I get what you’re saying now. Thanks for the correction, I did think you were denying substitutionary atonement. I’m sorry I misunderstood.

    You’ve brought up “the Father and I are one” passage a couple of times. The Father and the Son are of the same substance, but neither are they the same person. “Neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance,” I think the Athanasian Creed states. Might this have a bearing?

    Because if what you’re saying is right then we have a problem with Scripture. John 2:1 says, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” If Jesus and the Father are one in the way you suggest, then how could Jesus be our advocate with the Father? By what you’re saying, either they both are our advocates or neither are. Either way one picks, 1 John would be wrong.

    With that I must bow out of the conversation. I’ll leave you with the last word (with me at least.) I do lurk from time to time, so if you respond I’ll see it.

  10. @T-rav #9

    There is an old Russian saying that you want to keep the wolves happy and the sheep whole. There is no reason why we cannot do it here, but we must understand that we cannot pick and chose where we think Scripture is right or wrong. Where there seems to be a contradiction, we must find a way to resolve it, because the principle holds true, “Scripture cannot contradict itself,” because it is the Word of God, just as God cannot contradict Himself.
    With regard to John 10:30, “The Father and I are one,” the writers of the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds resolved the problem by speaking of Persons and Substance. Of course, They are different Persons, but They are of the same Substance (Being of one substance with the Father …). But that means They cannot be in conflict with one another. The Father could never pour His wrath on His Son, Whom He called His “Beloved” just a few days earlier. It cannot happen any more than God can deny Himself.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  11. George, couple questions:

    1. Could not the father pour out his wrath upon sin? One would think his nature and his law and his word requires it, no? If yes, is not Christ bearing all the sins of the world? Is he not the sin bearer?
    2. “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” How are you to interpret this? This is the Word of Christ, spoken to the Father, of whom he is one substance as you correctly say. It would seem you are required to parse this, and argue forsakeness is different than wrath, but if they are, it would seem trivially so, because your argument that the Father could hold no wrath for the son would seem to imply also that he could not Forsake Him either? It seems somewhat silly to believe forsakeness admits of no reason rift in the Godhead but wrath does? Yet there are the words of our Lord and Saviour, asking the father why he is Forsaken.
    3. As a theodicy, could we not say that Christ was forsaken, killed, and the fathers wrath poured upon Him in his Human Nature?
    4. If all the sins of the world were born by Christ, and the fathers wrath was not poured out upon them, how has Christ or the father fulfilled the law?
    5. You seem to make a large point of the logical idea that the Father could not pour His wrath out upon the Son, else tear apart the Godhead, but similarly, how can their be three persons in one? A virginal birth? A God/Man having two natures in one person? Etc? In short, while I’m intrigued by appeals to logic, I’m much more persuaded by scripture.

    I will add, that I find it possible, that the theory of penal substitution is not required by the texts, I’m much more interested in any texts you might have that would positively disallow the theory…the theory seeming to be illogical is not going to destroy the theory. The trinity is not expressly taught, is wholly illogical (all the Lords work is regarded as foolishness by men), yet good luck trying to abandon the trinity based upon that…

    Do you see what I’m asking?

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